How Antonio Brown trade changed Raiders' plan for NFL free agency

How Antonio Brown trade changed Raiders' plan for NFL free agency

ALAMEDA – Raiders general manager Mike Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden had been studying this year’s NFL free-agent class for weeks, rarely leaving the building other than to eat or sleep.

Owner Mark Davis invited his chief decision makers and their wives to an event in Las Vegas last weekend, and Gruden suggested they accept.

“I was excited to get Mike out of the building,” Gruden said Wednesday. “We went to Las Vegas and it was a great event with Mike, Mandy Mayock, my wife Cindy and I and it was supposed to be a double date. Instead, we dated Drew Rosenhaus and Antonio Brown.”

The figurative swap happened because Pittsburgh’s deal to send mercurial receiver Antonio Brown to Buffalo fell through Thursday night. There were some contract hang-ups there, and suddenly Brown’s trade value went down.

The Raiders couldn’t meet Pittsburgh’s original asking price, but they met a new one that sends a third-round pick and a fifth-rounder to Pittsburgh for Brown, who in turn got $50 million over three years with $30 million guaranteed.

Mayock said the Raiders didn’t get involved in the Antonio Brown sweepstakes until Friday, the day before the deal was consummated. They had thought about it, but weren’t willing to jump into trade talks requiring one of their four NFL draft picks in the top 35 overall.

Then the price went down, and Mayock and Gruden discussed a realistic possibility that would turn their free-agency plan on its ear.

“The wild card in our planning was the understanding that Antonio Brown might be available,” Mayock said during Brown’s introductory press conference. “When, all of a sudden, we realized we might have an opportunity to compete for his services, it changed everything.

"When Jon and I had the conversation in Las Vegas about the chance to trade for Antonio Brown, there was no hesitation. Both of us thought his play spoke for itself, and we thought it would be important for the locker room and energy around the building.”

His on-field presence doesn’t hurt. Getting a four-time first-team All-Pro in the pattern was worth the extra funds required to secure his services through 2021, even if it meant the Raiders couldn’t go after all of their targets.

They still landed several players in their prime, all to contracts averaging eight figures per year. Antonio Brown came first, with offensive tackle Trent Brown, defensive back Lamarcus Joyner and receiver Tyrell Williams, respectively, after that.

The Raiders aren’t done. Expect a veteran, second-tier edge rusher coming down the pike in time, with another cornerback remaining a possibility. Then there’s the matter of securing their own, especially running backs Marshawn Lynch (if he wants to return) and/or Doug Martin. The Raiders are monitoring tight end Jared Cook’s market, though it’s hard to imagine him coming back with a visit to New Orleans Thursday and interest from the Patriots.

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The Raiders are still right with the salary cap. Without knowing Brown’s contract structure, the Raiders have an estimated $20 million in cap space, with half that devoted to the draft pool. Released players could create more space, as the Raiders adjust now that Brown’s in the fold. There have been reports the Raiders have a cashflow problem, recent signings refute such strong assertions. Mayock and Gruden still have to spend within their means.

“We have nowhere near an unlimited budget,” Mayock said. “The curveball that came out of nowhere was Antonio. What is comes down to is this: you’ve got a finite number of dollars; how do you want to spend them? When he became available, potentially, to us, we had to re-take that sheet of paper out and reanalyze how many players we could successfully chase or not. He was the trigger to the rest of what we did.

"I think, hindsight will be 20/20 a year from now, but we feel we upgraded the Raiders with big signings and we’re excited to keep working on it.”

NFL rumors: Antonio Brown's quest to wear preferred helmet hits a snag

NFL rumors: Antonio Brown's quest to wear preferred helmet hits a snag

Antonio Brown’s camp thought the superstar receiver’s quest to wear his preferred helmet was nearing its end.

Not so fast, apparently.

Brown wants to wear a Schutt Air Advantage helmet, a version of headgear he has worn, in one model or another, since high school. It has been discontinued and is more than 10 years old, making it ineligible for certification.

Brown was told he could use the Schutt Air Advantage if he could find one made less than 10 years ago. He would then have to get it re-conditioned and re-certified.

The star Raiders receiver crowd sourced his helmet search, and found some that were made more recently.

The NFL tested a helmet made in 2010 that Brown’s camp submitted and, according to Pro Football Talk, the helmet failed the test. Brown was reportedly told of the failure on Saturday. Brown also has one from 2014 that was certified by an independent body, but it has not yet been recently tested by the NFL.

PFT also reports that Brown will continue his quest to wear the helmet he prefers.

The receiver, who squashed all talk of retirement over this helmet issue, said Thursday night that he would work within the system to get a helmet that works for him.

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“I’m still trying helmets right now,” Brown said after the Raiders beat Arizona in their preseason game. “As long as the league certifies them, those are the ones I’m trying out. I’m trying out every one I have. There have been a lot of great fans sending helmets. I’m just following protocol, man. I’m just excited to be back. You’ll be seeing a lot of me here shortly. I’m just excited to be around my teammates in the building and reached the shared goals we’re here to achieve.”

Derek Carr, Raiders' frontline starters might be done playing in preseason

Derek Carr, Raiders' frontline starters might be done playing in preseason

NAPA – Derek Carr has said he doesn’t need much preseason work to prepare for games that actually count.

That’s a plus for the Raiders quarterback. One drive might be all he gets.

Head coach Jon Gruden said his surefire starters might be done playing in the preseason, even with two exhibitions left.

The preseason finale’s never played by major contributors. The third preseason game often represents the most extensive action starters see, but that might not be the case Thursday against the Green Bay Packers in Winnipeg at IF Field. The venue has artificial turf, and houses a CFL team and a professional soccer club, with both franchises currently in season.

“We’re looking into the surface that we’re playing on, and we’re not sure how much we’re going to play our starters,” Gruden said on Saturday. “We don’t have 22 starters in ink yet, either. There are going to be guys vying to become starters, but some of the frontline guys will be very limited in the next two weeks.”

That includes Carr, running back Josh Jacobs and receiver Antonio Brown, just returning after suffering frostbite on his feet. The starting Raiders offense was efficient in Thursday’s win over Arizona, quickly scoring a touchdown on its only drive. The top defense played four series and shut the Cardinals down, getting in quality work as a unit.

If the playing surface in Winnipeg is a cause for concern, expect Gruden to play it safe with his roster’s best.

Preserving health in the preseason was underscored by Friday news that the Chargers lost Derwin James for at least three months. The Raiders already are without right guard Gabe Jackson for the season’s first quarter at least. They don’t want to put any other big names at unnecessary risk.

There’s logic behind shutting Richie Incognito down in games, and backing him off some in first-team work. He has to serve a two-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, and the Raiders will start preparing his replacements for early-season action.

“We’ve seen him enough,” Gruden said. “He’s played enough football. I don’t think we need to see him pull on power anymore. I think he’s good.”

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Jonathan Cooper’s the front runner to play left guard at this stage, though Denzelle Good (back) came off the physically unable to perform list Saturday and will challenge Cooper if he can get ramped up over the preseason’s final few weeks.

“We’re going to ease him back in,” Gruden said. “That’s huge for us. With Gabe injury and Richie’s situation, it’s good to have Denzelle close to returning.”